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ESPN picks Rays for 3 early-season prime-time games

Yankees, Red Sox and Astros contests set for Monday Night Baseball.
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throws as pitching coach Kyle Snyder (23) looks on during spring training baseball camp Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Port Charlotte, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After taking the Astros to the brink in last season's American League Division Series, the Rays are expected to be a top contender once again in 2020. No surprise their featured early season games will get the spotlight.

ESPN announced Tampa Bay will play in the network's Monday Night Baseball time slot three weeks in a row during March and April.

The first of those appearances come March 30, when Aaron Judge and the American League favorite New York Yankees visit Tropicana Field. It's the first of 19 meetings between the two rivals throughout the season and could provide an early benchmark for how the Rays measure up against the World Series favorites.

The Bronx Bombers added former Astros-star pitcher Gerrit Cole in the off-season and will add a healthy Giancarlo Stanton back to their lineup.

RELATED: Reports: Gerrit Cole agrees to 9-year, $324 million deal with Yankees

A week later, the Rays head to Boston to battle the Red Sox in their first series of the season. Boston could see a slide from their perennial powerhouse status after trading former American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts to Los Angeles.

RELATED: The Tampa Bay Rays 2020 schedule is here

Then on April 13, the Astros and Rays meet on the field for the first time since Houston ousted Tampa Bay from last season's playoffs.

Since then, the reigning American League champions have dealt with the sign-stealing scandal tied to their 2017 World Series championship. 

That controversy led to the firing of manager AJ Hinch. In his place, former Giants, Cubs and Nationals manager Dusty Baker will lead Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and the rest of the Astros into Tropicana Field.

Rays open the season on March 26 at 4:10 p.m. against the Pittsburgh Pirates.